The resemblance between the Power Grid and the Data Center

At the Datacentres 2012 conference in Nice, there were some very interesting discussions about the interrelation and resemblance between the power grid and the data center.

Christian Belady started the conference with a keynote speech where he raised the question; Why are we separating the power generation from the data center?

Why do we generate power in a separate power plant and struggle to get this power by transmission and distribution networks to a separate data center where data is generated by computers?

Why don’t we instead bringing the data generation (computers) to the power plant and get rid of the transmission and distribution grid?

The business case for this transformation is based on difference in price for a power grid network  per kilometer and a glass fiber network per kilometer.

Belady was emphasizing to think out of the box and to question what is really necessary to run a data center. But Belady also stated to think about using ideas and concepts from other industries. He pointed at the resemblance between managing a power grid and managing a data center in terms of variable work load, capacity management, load peak shaving etc.

That is indeed a very interesting thought.

The rise of electricity consumption is spectacular. From the seventies onwards the worldwide growth is more than 200% . The growing dynamics in supply and demand of electric energy put a lot of pressure on the current power grid. For a power grid demand and supply of power must be the same, in equilibrium, else there is the risk that this infrastructure shuts down. Loss in transmission and the level of congestion on any particular part of the grid will influence the dispatch of the generated units of electricity. For a power grid the load or the required amount of electric power falls into three categories: base load, intermediate load and peak load. Base load refers to a relatively constant output of power plants over a period. In contrast, peak load refers to surges in electricity demand that occur at specific, usually predictable periods, such as evening peak load. Finally intermediate load refers to the fluctuating demand for electricity throughout the day.

Question is, how the current power grid must handle the new demands and new dynamics real-time?

But the same can be said about the data centers and networks or “IT grid”.

The rise of data consumption is spectacular. From the eighties onwards the worldwide growth has been exponential. The growing dynamics in supply and demand of data (cloud computing) put a lot of pressure on the current IT grid. For an IT grid demand and supply of power must be the same, in equilibrium, else there is the risk that this infrastructure shuts down (time outs because of latency). Loss in transmission and the level of congestion on any particular part of the IT grid will influence the dispatch of the generated units of data. For an IT grid we also can differentiate the load or the required amount of data processing into three categories: base load, intermediate load and peak load. Base load refers to a relatively constant output of data centers over a period. In contrast, peak load refers to surges in data demand that occur at specific, usually predictable periods, such as mid day peak load. Finally intermediate load refers to the fluctuating demand for data throughout the day.

Question is, how the current IT grid must handle the new demands and new dynamics real-time?

There is the issue in the data center in how to service, provide and to organize, in an (energy) efficient way, the base load, intermediate load and peak load. The importance of capacity management is growing just as the need for control and administration. As the data center industry relies increasingly on information to operate the data center system, two infrastructures must now be managed: not only the Data Center Infrastructure, but also the Information Infrastructure for control and coordination. This need can be found back in the rising interest in topics like data center automation, data center infrastructure management (DCIM), service orchestration and management. This is also the point where the data center industry can learn from the power industry who have dealt with this issues for almost a century and now are transforming the current power grid to a Smart Grid to deal with the new demands and new dynamics.

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